I started Joan Taylor's Jewish Women Philosophers of First-Century Alexandria: Philo's 'Therapeutae' Reconsidered.
Therapeutae were a Jewish group that was near Lake Mareotis, which is
close to Alexandria, Egypt. On page 99, Taylor refers to them as "an
educated Jewish Alexandrian elite, who, for philosophical reasons, had
chosen to forsake their affluent urban lifestyles in order to embrace a
contemplative life of reading, music, and meditating on scripture."
Taylor appears to believe that the group was supported by benefactors
(as Buddhist monasteries are), who helped the Therapeutae to survive and
to have "buildings, books, clothing, [and] food" (page 97).
Philo in the first century C.E. talks about the Therapeutae in De Vita Contemplativa,
even as he discusses another group, the Essenes. According to Taylor,
Philo's audience in terms of this work included a lot of Gentiles, and
she says this because Philo apparently feels compelled to spell things
out about Judaism, things that many Jews would know about. For
Taylor, Philo is essentially saying to his Gentile audience that there
are Jewish groups that live up to pagan philosophical ideals, such as
asceticism (restraining the passions) and contemplation.
believes that the Therapeutae were an actual group that existed in
history, against those who hold that Philo is being utopian or is simply
using rhetoric. Taylor acknowledges that Philo is using rhetoric and
may even be idealizing the group, but, in her eyes, that does not mean
that the group did not exist.
According to Philo, the Therapeutae
had women. For Taylor, Philo makes this point even though it conflicts
with his misogynist tendencies, and so it was probably historical.
Since the women in this group could read, they most likely came from
wealthy women, the women who had literacy.
The presence of
women in the group was one factor that led Eusebius (third-fourth
centuries C.E.) to think that the Therapeutae were Christians, for
Christianity included women in worship (Ecclesiastical History
2:17:18). Eusebius thought that Philo wrote De Vita Contemplativa later in life, after Philo had supposedly met the apostle Peter.
But, as Taylor notes on page 32, "No one today seriously entertains the
idea that the group was Christian", for "It is rather to be identified
as Jewish (cf. Contempl. 64, where the group follows the sacred instructions according to the prophet Moses)."
interested me was something that Taylor said on page 65: that Philo in
Spec. 2:42-48 says that the people who elevate themselves above their
passions and bodily needs are few. That makes me wonder if Philo (and
perhaps also the Stoics in general) saw asceticism as an ideal, not as a
requirement for everybody. I am curious about this because Stoicism
and Judaism were big on marriage and the family, which seem to go
against elements of asceticism (i.e., restraining the passions).
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